An egg is truly a miraculous object; the purple and red foil, the dark chocolate shell, the creamy centres. How do they get those in there? It's another that miracle I didn't gain more over Easter than I did. I think I burned off all the calories running up and down the stairs to check on my incubator. Of course, chicken eggs are the real miracle. In 21 days it can go from just yolk and a white with the tiniest speck of potential life to a downy little chirping chick. When you hold a fertilized chicken egg in your hand, it's just an egg. It can be an omelette, part of a chocolate cake or you can put it in the incubator and create life.
Before you get all grossed out the eggs you buy in the store aren't fertilized. For that to happen you need a rooster, but you don't need a rooster for the hen to lay an egg. And it's not the yolk or the white that turns into a chick, but a tiny speck. When heated up to 38 Celsius the speck starts to develop eyes, head and a nervous system after only 24 hours. By the end of the second day its heart starts beating. On the third day it begins to develop its nose, legs and wings and on day four it grows a tongue. On day five the reproductive organs are formed and on day six the beak appears and on day eight the feathers start to grow.
On day nine I candled my eggs, which simply means holding the egg up to bright light in a dark room so you can see through the shell. After the eggs smashing arrival through the post and the wild temperature fluctuations that first night my expectations were pretty low. The first two eggs I couldn't tell what I was looking at, but by the third I could actually see the chick moving inside. I was so excited I almost dropped the egg. Fortunately for the chick, I managed to hang on.
On day 10 the chick's beak hardens and on day 13 the scales and claws begin to form. On day 14 it starts to get into position to peck its way out of the shell. On day 16 the scales and claws harden and the beak forms the hard little horn it will use to break out of the shell. On day 17 the beak turns towards the air cell in the egg and on day 18 the hen - or human - stops turning the eggs several times a day and lets the chick get ready to hatch. On day 19 the chick begins to absorb the life giving yolk and on day 20 it begins gathering strength. On day 21 it uses its pipping horn to tap away on the inside of the shell thousands of times before finally breaking through.
Once the beak is out of the egg the chick begins to acclimatize itself to taking in oxygen through its lungs. With a belly full of yolk and lungs full of oxygen the chick slowly begins to turn itself and peck its way all the way around the egg. It can take several hours from that first gasp of outside air to the moment where the chick stretches and pushes the egg shell in two and flops outside in a tiny exhausted heap.
The human temptation to interfere during those long hours is strong. It's hard to watch something so tiny work so incredibly hard to gain life. How simple it would be to just crack the egg in half and free the chick. Unfortunately a lot of well meaning people do just that and are distressed by the consequences. Robbed of this necessary step to achieving independent life, chicks usually fail to thrive or lose the will to live altogether.
Still, it's hard not to help out. It's the same instinct that keeps parents from letting children experience a few hard knocks along the way. We instinctively rush to cushion our child's falls, protect them from bad decisions, and scan the future for any bumps we can level out before the kids even notice them. We can blame it on the cheese, but the painful truth is that sometimes all our well-meaning nurturing simply robs children of any inclination to fly.
As my chicks enter their final week of incubation and my children head into their twenties, I am doing my best to achieve a non-interfering attitude. But oh, it's not easy. But being a mother hen never is.